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U.S. military active duty retirees: Valuable assets

By George S. Kulas
web posted June 7, 2004

In his speech to a joint session of congress on April 19, 1951 General Douglas MacArthur echoed that unforgettable refrain from an old barracks ballad, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." Today with the manpower shortages the U.S. military is facing because of extended deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq it could use some "old soldiers."
While some in congress are talking about renewing a draft of non-volunteers there is a very large pool of qualified patriotic volunteers who are denied the opportunity to continue serving their country.

These volunteers are highly skilled, trained, motivated and proven service members who could contribute substantially to the military's combat readiness as members of the ready reserves. These service members, U.S. military active duty retirees, spent 20 or more years full-time in the active Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force. They knew their jobs well. Most of them were in leadership positions. Many trained junior service members during their careers. Many are combat veterans.

There are currently over 1.5 million active duty military retirees (half under age 60). This is more than the entire active duty force today. Most active duty military retirees are in their early forties upon retirement. Many of these retirees are prepared and willing to continue serving in the military on a part-time basis as members of the ready reserve. Ready reserve military personnel attend paid weekend drills and at least two weeks of active duty for training each year. They are the most likely to be called to active duty during a war or national emergency. Qualified members can serve until they are 60 years old.

Unfortunately, under current law, Title 10 of the U.S. Code, active duty military retirees are not allowed to join a ready reserve unit unless the Secretary of the service "makes a special finding that the member's services in the ready reserve are indispensable." Additionally, according to Title 10 of the U.S. Code, a service member cannot receive both retired pay and reserve pay concurrently. Should a retiree be allowed to participate in the ready reserve under the provisions of the statute, he or she will either have to decline reserve pay or forfeit retired pay for the number of days duty is performed.

Ironically the same Title 10 of the US. Code that virtually bars active duty military retirees from being in the ready reserve states in Chapter 39, Section 688, that a military retiree can be ordered back to active duty at any time. In fact, the Army's Policies and Procedures for Preassigning and Recalling Retired Army Personnel During a War or National Emergency" states that retirees under age 60 are subject to be recalled to active duty within seven days of being notified. These retirees, if fully qualified, can be assigned to deploying units that will fight the war. A retiree who fails to comply with the orders may be considered Absent Without Leave (AWOL) and could be subject to disciplinary action by the military, including suspension of retired pay.

On one hand retirees are told by the military that they are subject to being called back to active duty and possibly deployed. On the other hand the law bars retirees from joining a ready reserve unit to continue training in order to maintain proficiency in basic military skills and their military occupational specialty so they are prepared in the event of being called back.

Many retirees were senior members of the military and if called back they may be required to lead and or manage in areas that have undergone major technological changes since they retired from active duty. If they are unfamiliar with current methods and/or doctrine it could cause much more harm than good. This is a major reason more retirees aren't called back.
It would make sense to keep otherwise qualified retirees that could be called back trained to current standards. This can be done through their participation in the reserve components thereby adding a substantial amount of qualified personnel available to the military.

The law which says military retirees cannot serve in ready reserve units needs to be changed to allow those volunteers who are qualified the opportunity to join units where the military stipulates they are needed. If congress is serious about having the best quality military with limited manpower they should give the military flexibility in tapping personnel resources.
There are a lot of "old soldiers" who are willing and able to continue serving in the military. But until the law of the land is changed these "old soldiers" will continue to just "fade away." 

George S. Kulas served as a Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army before he retired.

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